Episode 9: Alabama A&M Moonbuggy Team

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Episode 9: Alabama A&M Moonbuggy Team
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Show Notes

Special Guests: Seydou Diop and Jamaal Moore, Alabama A&M moonbuggy team members, and Dr. Amir Mobasher, team adviser

(0:00) Intro

(0:20) The NASA Astrobiology Institute Research Scholarship Project   → accepts requests on a continuous basis.

(0:50) Great Moonbuggy Race overview and introduction of interviews with members of the Alabama A&M team competing in the Great Moonbuggy Race. Team members Seydou Diop and Jamaal Moore and team adviser Dr. Amir Mobasher discuss the team's preparation for the competition.

(2:07) Interview with Seydou Diop.

(3:55) Interview with Dr. Amir Mobasher.

(5:10) Interview with Jamaal Moore.
       Great Moonbuggy Race   →
       Article about the Great Moonbuggy Race
       Article about international moonbuggy teams

(9:08) End

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Deana Nunley: This is NASA Student Opportunities -- a podcast connecting high school and college students with learning opportunities inside America's space agency.

Episode 9. April 11, 2007. I'm Deana Nunley. Thanks for joining us today.

The NASA Astrobiology Institute Research Scholarship Project offers research-related travel support that enables graduate or postdoctoral students to circulate among two or more NASA Astrobiology Institute teams or participating institutions. Requests are accepted on a continuous basis.

For more information, go to www.nasa.gov/podcast. Click on the NASA Student Opportunities podcast and check out this week's show notes.

[Natural sound: miter saw. Male student: Make sure you don't push on it too hard. Don't break the belts.]

The 14th annual Great Moonbuggy Race is just days away, and members of the Alabama A&M team are putting the finishing touches on their moonbuggy.

[Natural sound: electric sander. Male student: Make sure you follow the marks on the bracket. Make sure you follow the marks on it. It's really critical to do that.]

They're getting ready to compete against 24 universities and colleges from 13 states, Puerto Rico and Canada. The event is April 13 and 14 at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., also home to Alabama A&M University.

Student teams accepted the engineering challenge to design and build vehicles similar to those driven by astronauts on the moon. And this weekend, co-ed teams will race their vehicles against the clock across a half-mile, simulated moon surface that includes "craters," rocks and "lava" ridges. The challenge is to design a human-powered vehicle no more than 4-feet high, 4-feet long and 4-feet wide and light enough for its two drivers to carry. The moonbuggy must be transported unassembled to the starting line and then quickly assembled by its drivers.

Alabama A&M senior Seydou Diop leads a six-member team of mechanical engineering majors -- three seniors, two sophomores and one freshman.


How many times has Alabama A&M participated in the Moonbuggy Race?

Seydou Diop: It's going to be our fourth participation in this Moonbuggy Race. Really, we're looking forward to doing a better job for this participation.

Deana: Have you been successful in the past?

Seydou: Pretty much, I mean as far as our design holding, we did a really good job. What we need to work on is the speed. But really, our design is suitable for this race.

Deana: Can you describe that design for me?

Seydou: Yeah, sure. This design is special because we're using a driveshaft. That's what we're using, and the other teams usually use a chain. But ours is just based on a driveshaft.

And really, this time our frame is a little bit different because we're using the I-beam, which is different compared to last year. We had just a hollow tube that we just built up and made it a frame.

This design is special to us because we're really looking forward to improving our moonbuggy. That's why we chose that special driveshaft. So, we're going to be the only team that will be using that design. We're looking forward to succeed and win it all.

Deana: So you do think this is the year that you win?

Seydou: Yeah. Our team is really motivated, and we're pushing hard and we're trying to do everything that we need to do to get there and be the first. So, I'm going to say "yeah." The answer to that question is going to be "yes."

Deana: Alabama A&M associate professor Dr. Amir Mobasher, the moonbuggy team's adviser, agrees that this year's entry has the potential to be a winning design.

Dr. Amir Mobasher: One of the features of our design is the uniqueness. In the design we are using, it uses a chainless mechanism. That means there are no chains involved, no sprockets. That way, the occupants of the buggy are fairly safe in terms of having to touch the chains. If the chain goes out of place, they have to replace it and so on and so forth. So we are pretty proud of that. This is one of the features that I haven't seen in other moonbuggies, and we hope it works out, again, great for us.

Deana: How did you get away from the chain?

Dr. Mobasher: They actually purchased what they call a shaft drive mechanism. The vendor is Dynamic Bicycles in Boston. They were willing to pitch in part of the donations for us and that helped us out greatly.

Deana: The students say the support they've received from their professors and the community has given their team a tremendous boost. I asked one of the students, Jamaal Moore, to describe a typical day for the moonbuggy team.

Jamaal Moore: All the team members have classes at different times, so we try to meet up when we work on the moonbuggy for about three hours at a time. So when we come in here, we'll kind of go over the game plan and everybody will break off and do their own separate jobs. Right now, we're working on the brackets, so you might have somebody on the brackets on the sander, grinding them into the shape that we need.

Also, at one point, we had to change the tire and change the rims and the spokes and everything on the tires. So somebody might be working on that. So, we basically just divvy up all of the tasks, and everybody works on his own little side task until three hours are up. Then the next day, start the same thing over again.

Deana: What have you learned as you have prepared for the Moonbuggy Race?

Jamaal: One thing we've learned, we've learned how to design a whole project. We've learned teamwork, planning. We've learned how to make financial decisions, because we only have a certain budget and we need to keep everything under the budget.

Those things will help us when we are employed. Because the lessons that we've learned here will help us when we get a job. If we get a job and we need to make a design, we can't go over budget and we need to work with other team members. We have to rely on our team members.

So this experience, I think, directly correlates with having a real job. So I think this moonbuggy experience, not only for learning engineering principles, is good for when you get in the real world and you have your real job.

Deana: If you could share three lessons learned with a team that's just getting started, getting ready for the Moonbuggy Race, what would those be?

Jamaal: Three lessons would be: one, plan early. If you wait until the last minute, you're going to be up all night. Your project probably won't be as successful. I would say design carefully. Because if you try to make your design too elaborate, then it's going to be hard to get everything completed.

Sometimes you have to get things machined by an outside company and that can cost a lot of money and time. If your design is simple, but also effective, then, hopefully, you'll be able to do everything yourself.

And the third lesson is to get team members that are dedicated. Because if you run into problems with team members not being dedicated, then it's going to be hard to get the work completed, or your workload would be a lot bigger than it would be if you could equally divide the work between six team members.

Deana: Awards are given to the top three teams in both high school and college divisions that complete the course with the best times. Awards also are presented for most unique moonbuggy; most improved from previous competition; best overall design; fastest first-year contestant; and the vehicle with the safest design. In addition to 25 college teams, 36 high schools will compete in this year's race. The event is open to the public.

If you're interested in entering next year's Great Moonbuggy Race, we want to let you know that 2008 registration information will be available this fall. Links to the Great Moonbuggy Race Web site and NASA Education articles about the moonbuggy competition are available in this week's show notes. Go to www.nasa.gov/podcast and click on the NASA Student Opportunities podcast.

We'd like to hear from you. If you have any questions or comments about NASA learning opportunities, send an e-mail to: educationpodcast@nasa.gov

Thanks for listening.

NASA Student Opportunities is a podcast production of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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